Jerrold Landau
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Maaravot, Yotzrot, Kerovot


First Days of Pesaḥ

Before beginning to overview the Maaravot, Yotzrot, and Kerovot for Pesaḥ, I will describe the general structure of these types of piyyutim for the Shalosh Regalim. There are ten Yom Tov days of the Shalosh Regalim in the Diaspora. Each has its own Maaravot and Yotzrot. Seven of the ten Yom Tov days have Kerovot. The exceptions are the first day of Pesaḥ, Shemini Atzeret, and Simḥat Torah. Yotzrot, but not Maaravot or Kerovot, also exist for the two Shabbatot of Ḥol Hamoed. The Yotzrot of the Shalosh Regalim consist of a Yotzer, Ofan, and Zulat. On four of the five holy days of Pesaḥ, there is also a Geula.

In general, the Yotzrot and Kerovot of the second day of Yom Tov follow the same style and pattern as the first day (Kerovot of first days of  Pesaḥ being an exception, as they only exist for the second day). Most of these piyyutim, other than those composed by the greatest composer of piyyutim, Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir, were composed in the Ashkenazic lands of Western Europe. Their structure and usage in the order of prayer were also set in Ashkenaz lands. Thus, these piyyutim manifest themselves in their fullest sense in the Diaspora, rather than in Israel where there is no second day of Yom Tov. This is strictly a function of the location of the authorship and compilation of the Ashkenazic prayer service. In no way is this indicative of the primacy of the observance of the second Diaspora day of Yom Tov. Those who do not merit to live in the Land of Israel, the present author included, must always recognize that the fullest manifestation of the Yamim Tovim is reflected by their observance in Israel, and that the second day of Yom Tov is a function of the exile. On the other hand, most congregations do not recite these piyyutim on the Shalosh Regalim; and, in this day and age, they serve more as a source of study than worship. As such, their content and lessons can be equally appreciated by Jews in both Israel and the Diaspora. This concept is perhaps best reflected in the Rinat Yisrael Maḥzorim for the Shalosh Regalim. Being Israel focused, they do not include the Torah readings and Haftarot for the Diaspora Yom Tov days. However, the Shaar Hapiyyutim section at the end includes the piyyutim for both days, clearly recognizing their value as study material and sources of inspiration, even when not recited as part of the formal service.

Uvechein: and now, we will return turn our focus to Pesaḥ.

The short sections of the Maaravot for both nights all start with לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים [a night of protection]. Their main theme is the plague of the Killing of the Firstborn at midnight, and the subsequent Exodus. On the first night, the long piyyut after לְךָ עָנוּ שִׁירָה consists of couplets of verses. The first verse in each couplet ends with בִּימֵי חַג פֶּסַח [on the days of the Pesaḥ festival], and describes events from the original Pesaḥ in Egypt. The second verse ends with כִּימֵי חַג פֶּסַח [as on the days of the Pesaḥ festival], and looks forward to the future redemption. On the second night, each verse of the long Maaravit piyyut begins with לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים, and ends with בּֽלֵילֵי חַג פֶּסַח; and describes Biblical events that took place on the night of  Pesaḥ. These events include the creation of Adam, the offering of Abel, the birth of Abraham, the war with the kings, and many other events throughout history. The piyyut ends with a view of the future salvation.

The final section of the Maaravot is extended on the first two nights of Pesach with a unique piyyut known as Bikkur. This title stems from the theme of the piyyut on the second night, which deals with the harvesting of the Omer offering of the first grains of the new barley crop (even though the Torah does not explicitly refer to the Omer offering as Bikkurim) [19]. The title Bikkur applies to the piyyut on the first night as well, even though it does not share the theme of first-fruit offerings. Some Maḥzorim omit the Bikkur on the first night. Artscroll relegates the Bikkur of the first night to the appendix, indicating that not all congregations recite it. The Bikkur of the first night reminisces about the slaughter and the eating of the Korban Pesaḥ, and prays that we can do so again in the rebuilt Jerusalem. The Bikkur of the second night describes the harvest of the grains for the Omer offering, which indeed took place on the second night of Pesaḥ, as described in the 10th chapter of Mishnah Menaḥot. As a reminiscence of the ceremony that took place during the time of the Temple on that very night of the 16th of Nissan, the recital of this piyyut fulfils the concept of וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ [and let the words of our mouth replace the offerings of bulls]. As such, it serves a similar purpose to the recitation of the daily offering prior to Pesukei D’Zimra of Shaḥarit, and, by some, also prior to Minḥa, the middle section of the Musaf services on days when a Musaf sacrifice was brought in the Temple, the recitation of the Korban Pesaḥ that many say on the afternoon of Erev Pesaḥ, and the Avoda section of Musaf of Yom Kippur. As the second Seder is about to take place that evening, the Bikkur also serves as a reminder to Jews living in the Diaspora that the primary observance of the 16th of Nissan is not a Seder, but rather the harvesting of the Omer.

A cantorial composition exists for the final (sixth) portion of the Maaravit of the first night of Pesaḥ: Leil Shimurim – He made it a night of protection for the beloved nation, whom He saved from the hands of the Lehavim (i.e. the Egyptians). It will be a salvation for the city of Bat Rabim (i.e. Jerusalem). May they sleep in comfort and peace, without fear… (The reference to sleeping is because this section of the Maaravit belongs to the Hashkiveinu blessing.) The composition skips over the Bikkur for the first night, and ends with the concluding blessing, reinforcing the custom noted by Artscroll that the Bikkur is only added on the second night. The musical theme of the composition closely resembles the nusaḥ of Maariv for Yom Tov [20].

The Yotzrot for both days consist of a long piyyut spread across the Yotzer, Ofan, and Zulat. Each stanza either begins or ends with a portion of a pasuk of Song of Songs, starting from the first pasuk of the first chapter, and extending to the end of the last chapter. Almost all pesukim are included, although there are some gaps in the latter chapters. The stanzas deal with the mutual love of Gd and Israel, the Exodus (although that is not an overriding theme, contrary to what one might expect on the first days of Pesaḥ), and looking forward to the ultimate reunion of the lovers (Gd and Israel) with the rebuilding of the Temple. The piyyutim of both days start out at the same pace, although the Yotzer for the first day is longer, so the Ofan and Zulat start at different points of Song of Songs on each day. The piyyutim of the first day are more detailed and lengthier, and only the Zulat of the first day extends all the way to the final pasuk of Song of Songs.

The Ofan of both days engages in anthropomorphic descriptions of Gd. Based on the words of chapter 5 of Song of Songs, Gd’s head, eyes, cheeks, hands, legs, and palate are poetically portrayed, so to speak.

Unique among all the Yamim Tovim is the presence of a Geula piyyut for the first days of Pesaḥ, as well as for Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed and the seventh day. Other than that of the seventh day, the Geula is based on the final Pasuk of Song of Songs,  בְּרַח דּוֹדִי, from which the name for this set of piyyutim is derived: Braḥ Dodi [flee my beloved]. Homiletically, this final pasuk of Song of Songs asks Gd to flee from the exile together with His nation, and rebuild the Temple. This yearning for an end of the exile and the rebuilding of the Temple forms the theme of the Braḥ Dodi piyyutim.

The Geula piyyutim are clearly intended as a finale to the Yotzrot, which are built on Song of Songs. On the holiday of redemption, the Yotzrot end with an insertion in the blessing of redemption (Gaal Yisrael), expressing the hope for the ultimate redemption. Their role as a conclusion to the Yotzrot is further accentuated by the fact that their authorship is the same as that of the preceding Yotzer, Ofan, and Zulat for the respective day (other than that on the seventh day). It is interesting that the Geula piyyutim have taken on an independent character, and many siddurim and Maḥzorim that do not include the rest of the Yotzrot, do include Braḥ Dodi. This may be due to the uniqueness of the Geula for the Seventh Day (Yom Layabasha), which I will discuss later. It may also be due to the general uniqueness of the Geula, and the appropriateness of a special focus on the theme of redemption on the holiday of redemption. It is also reflective of the custom of some synagogues that do not recite the Yotzrot of the Shalosh Regalim to include the Geula piyyutim of Pesaḥ [21]. Cantorial compositions exist for the Braḥ Dodi piyyutim [22].

Thus, the Adler Maḥzor, which does not include Yotzrot, does include the Geula piyyutim. The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Ashkenaz and Sefard , and Tefillat Kol Bo Hashalem Siddur include Braḥ Dodi / Yom LaYabasha. Even more curiously, Braḥ Dodi / Yom LaYabasha are included in the Silverman Siddur – the flagship Siddur of the Conservative Movement, which had already embarked upon the slippery slope of liturgical emendations that mark the departure from Orthodoxy [23]. My suspicion is that the inclusion of these piyyutim in the Silverman Siddur reflects the custom of the synagogue of Morris Silverman’s youth.

The Kerovot for the second day (as noted, there are no Kerovot for the first day) begin by rehashing the miracles of the Exodus, and mentioning the Korban Pesaḥ. Mention is made of the sin of the Golden Calf, and how it is atoned for by the sacrifice of bulls. This is a reference to the beginning of the Torah reading for the second day, which starts off with: If a bull, sheep, or ox is born (Leviticus 22:27). This is followed by the piyyut וּבְכֵן שׁ֣וֹר אוֹ־כֶ֤שֶׂב אוֹ־עֵז֙ כִּ֣י יִוָּלֵ֔ד [And so, if a bull, sheep, or ox is born], which reviews various times that a bull was offered, including Abraham’s feast for the visiting angels, the Yom Kippur offering, the bull brought by the leaders of the nation if a public error was made (Par He’elem Davar), and the bull of the festival offerings. This piyyut is followed by the Kadosh phrase: Those who left in haste were provided with food, for satiation and not for hunger, O Holy One.

The well-known piyyut וּבְכֵן וַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח פֶּסַח [And so you shall say: It is the Pesaḥ offering], then follows. This piyyut lists various events which are said to have taken place on Pesaḥ. These events overlap significantly with the events listed in וּבְכֵן וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה [And so, it happened at midnight] of the Shabbat HaḤodesh Kerovot. The piyyut ends with a hope for the sudden end to the current exile, when Gd’s might will be raised up just as it was on the night that the holiday of Pesaḥ was first sanctified. Both piyyutim have been imported into the Nirtzah section of the Seder. In the Diaspora, one is recited on the first night, and the other on the second night, whereas in Israel both are recited on the single Seder night.

The Siluk focuses on the plagues visited upon the Egyptians on the plague of the firstborn, and the miracles of the night of the first Pesaḥ. It then lists the ten plagues, demonstrating how each expressed a measure for measure for the suffering that the Egyptians inflicted upon the Israelites. The measure for measure theme concludes with the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea as recompense for ordering that the Israelite male babies be thrown into the Nile.


Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ

The Yotzrot for Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed follow a similar pattern to those of the first two days, with a Yotzer, Ofan, and Zulat based on the pesukim of Song of Songs. Once again, the Ofan portrays Gd in graphically anthropomorphic terms. The Yotzrot conclude with a Braḥ Dodi Geula piyyut, looking forward to the future redemption, and asking Gd to escape back to his tranquil abode, to the place of our Temple, to our city of righteousness, to the chosen sanctuary, and to the most exalted of hills.

The Ofan ends with Song of Songs 6:2, and the Zulat continues at 6:12. This is similar to the gap on the second day, where the Ofan ends with  6:3, and the Zulat continues with 6:12. The commentary in the Artscroll Maḥzor notes the gap on the second day, stating that “the paytan, for some unknown reasons, did not include passages from 6:4 through 6:11 in this piyyut.”  There is no similar note in the commentary for Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed. The mystery may be solved, however, by examining the Yotzrot in the Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor,  which include a brief Meora and Ahava, each covering four of the eight missing pesukim. Although Rinat Yisrael does not include a Meora and Ahava for the second day, I conjecture that such may exist somewhere, which would explain the mystery of the gap. (Rinat Yisrael may have been less interested in the piyyutim of the second day than those of the first day and of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed). No other Maḥzor that I have examined includes the Meora and Ahava for any of these days.

Aside from covering the gap in pesukim of Song of Songs, the Meora and Ahava conclude with a pasuk related to the concept of light (for the Meora), and love (for the Ahava). The pasuk for the Meora is from Isaiah 60:1 קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ וּכְבוֹד השׁם עָלַיִךְ זָרָח [Mechon Mamre: Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lrd is risen upon thee.]  The pasuk for the Ahava is the second half of Jeremiah 31:2 וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ עַל-כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד [Mechon Mamre: Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with affection have I drawn thee.]. Incidentally, both pesukim appear in Haftarot during the year – for Ki Tavo, and for the second day of Rosh Hashanah respectively.

As previously noted, there are no Kerovot for Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed.


Last Days of Pesaḥ

The theme of the Maaravit for the seventh night is the miracles at the Red Sea and Shirat Hayam [Song of the Sea]. Each line of the five shorter sections begins with a word from the song, starting with וַיּוֹשַׁע (Exodus 14:30), and ending with השׁם יִמְלֹךְ (Exodus 15:18). The Maaravit for the eighth night also contains some words from the Shirat Hayam and references to the events at the Red Sea, but deals more with the general redemption from Egypt, and ends with a hope for the future redemption. The longer section of the Maaravot of both nights consists of a piyyut with alternating stanzas contrasting the Pesaḥ of Egypt with the anticipated Pesaḥ of the future. This is in keeping with the double theme of the latter days of Pesaḥ. While the main theme of the latter days is the memory of the crossing of the Red Sea and the subsequent song, the Maaravot also encompass the additional motif of anticipating the future redemption. The custom of Seudat Hamashiaḥ observed by many people toward the end of the final day of the festival, as well as the central theme of the Haftarah for the eight day, emphasize the same concept.

Similar to the Maaravot, the Yotzer for both days focuses on the Shirat Hayam. On the seventh day, each verse of the Yotzer begins with the first word of a pasuk, ranging from וַיּוֹשַׁע (Exodus 14:30) to כִּי בָא (Exodus 15:19), and ends with a segment of a verse from Hallel, ranging from בְּצֵאת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם (Psalms 114:1) to וֵאלֹקינוּ בַשָּׁמָיִם (Psalms 115:3). It is interesting that the final three Hallel pesukim come from the part of Hallel that is omitted on the latter days of Pesaḥ. On the latter days of Pesaḥ, Hallel is downplayed, yet it makes its appearance here in the Yotzrot. Each verse of the Yotzer for the eighth day ends with a few words from the first part of a pasuk of Shirat Hayam, starting once again with וַיּושַׁע השׁם (Exodus 14:30), and extending all the way to וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם (Exodus 15:20).

The Ofan of the seventh day once again reviews Shirat Hayam, with each line beginning with a word from a pasuk of Shirat Hayam. The Ofan of the eighth day portrays the songs to Gd of both the angels and Israel in a general fashion, without a specific focus on Shirat Hayam. The refrain יוֹדוּ לַשׁם חַסְדּוֹ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו לִבְנֵי אָדָם [Mechon Mamre: Let them give thanks unto the Lrd for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!] appears four times. The refrain is a pasuk from Psalm 107, appearing four times (Psalms 107: 8, 15, 21, 31). The fourfold repetition in both the piyyut and the psalm is therefore no coincidence. The Maḥzorim also include an alternate Ofan for each day that is recited by some congregations. The Artscroll Maḥzor notes that some congregations recite both Ofanim.

There is a common Zulat for both days. The Zulat is based on the Midrash that there are nine songs in the Tanach, with a tenth to be sung at the time of the Messianic redemption. The Song of the Sea, and the Song of David that is used for the Haftarah for the seventh day, are both mentioned in the Zulat. Several of the songs listed in the piyyut differ from the traditional list [25]. The songs included in the Zulat consist of (note taken from Artscroll Maḥzor): the Song of the Sea, the Song of the Well, the Song of Joshua, the Song of Deborah, the Song of David, the Song of the dedication of the Temple, the Song of Solomon at the inauguration of the Temple, and two obscure songs derived from II Chronicles 20:16 and 26. The conclusion of the Zulat notes that the memory of the Exodus will be of secondary importance at the time of the Messianic redemption, which will overshadow all previous songs.

The Geula for the seventh day is the Yom Layabasha piyyut by the beloved, renowned poet, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the author of the Kuzari. We also find one of his compositions in the first of the Tzion Kinot of Tisha B’Av morning. Yom Layabasha begins with: On the day that the depths (i.e. the sea) turned to dry land, the redeemed people sang a new song. Some versions of this piyyut start with Yam Layabasha [the sea turned to dry land] rather than Yom Layabasha. The  שִׁירָה חֲדָשָׁה שִׁבְּ֒חוּ גְאוּלִים  refrain appears at the end of each of the eight verses. Mention is made that those who are sealed with the sign of circumcision display an outward sign as well – the tzitzit – so that the world will recognize that they are the true bearers of Torah and mitzvot. The piyyut ends with a hope for the ultimate redemption, when once again, the redeemed people will sing a new song.

Otzar Hatefillot mentions that this Geula is also to be recited on Parshat Beshalaḥ, when the Shirat Hayam is also read, as well as when a Brit Milah is to take place. Given the reference to circumcision, many have the custom of chanting this song at the festive meal following a Brit. Various cantorial and musical renditions of this piyyut exist [26].

The Kerovot once again portray the miracles and redemption that took place at the Red Sea. The Kadosh phrase of the seventh day asks that our enemies be repaid for their shameless misdeeds. Following that is an extensive piyyut portraying the punishment of our Biblical enemies, including the people of Sodom, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazar, and Haman. One of the piyyutim of the eighth day mentions the songs of Deborah and David, and looks forward to the new song of the future redemption. The first of the two Kadosh phrases of the eighth day asks: Who is capable of opposing the Wise and Mighty One in Whose hand is power and strength? The second Kadosh phrase requests that the One Who girds Himself in vengeance shout at His enemies and exact sevenfold recompense from them.

The last section of the Kerovot of both days, prior to the Siluk, consists of a long piyyut, in which each of the 21 or 22 sections starts with the beginning of a pasuk of Shirat Hayam, and elaborates on the theme of that pasuk in a six-stanza poem. This type of a piyyut is known as a Seder [order], as it breaks down and elaborates upon a section of the Torah in an orderly fashion, pasuk by pasuk. The Kerovot of Shavuot also include Seder piyyutim, which expound in detail on each of the Ten Commandments. The Seder piyyutim of the Kerovot of the latter days of Pesaḥ begin with the two pesukim prior to the Song [Vayosha Hashem], and extend to Exodus 15:18: Hashem will rule for ever and ever. The elaborations on each pasuk are different for each day, and there is an additional, 22nd stanza on the seventh day, based on the pasuk from Zecharia 14:9 וְהָיָ֧ה השׁם לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ [And Gd will be the King of the entire world]. The Seder of both days concludes with a reference to the future redemption with the end of that pasuk from Zecharia: בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה השׁם אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד [On that day, Gd will be One and His name will be one].

The Siluk of the seventh day outlines in clear, concise language the story of the 70 individuals who went down to Egypt, the slavery, the outcry to Gd for salvation, the appointment of Moses and Aaron, the ten plagues, the Exodus, the events of the seven-day journey to the Red Sea, the crossing, the drowning of the Egyptians, and the song. It then states, in language reminiscent of the Akdamut piyyut of Shavuot, that “were all the seas ink, and the ponds quills, and all people scribes, and parchment would be spread across the entire earth, it would be insufficient to delve into the wonders and miracles, not even one of a thousand, thousands, and myriads…” The Siluk then expresses the hope for the downfall of our enemies in the future, calling out Edom and Yishmael by name, and anticipates the comfort of Zion and our Temple, when Gd will be sanctified before the entire world.

The Siluk of the eighth day is written in more complex, obscure language. It starts by stating that “Had our mouth been filled with song and praise as the sea, and had all the hairs of our head been tongues for prayer, and had we occupied ourselves with such day and night, we would not succeed in uttering one of a myriad of the praises of your name…” (Once again, one can hear echoes of Akdamut.) The Siluk then proceeds to describe the Exodus, which took place during the daytime so everyone could see, where the Israelites left with all good things rather than empty-handed, how the Egyptians decided to pursue them, how the Israelites camped at the sea, how the sea split and the Israelites crossed.

Liturgical complications arise if either the seventh or the eight day falls on Shabbat [27]. In such years, there would be no Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed. The instructions are that the Yotzrot of the Yom Tov are to be replaced with those of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed. This would apply to all four parts of the Yotzrot, but not to the Kerovot, as there are no Kerovot on Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed. The Yotzrot of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed are based on Song of Songs, and Song of Songs is read on the Shabbat of Yom Tov if there is no Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed. Furthermore, Song of Songs is one of the ten songs of Tanach, and its theme is therefore appropriate on the day that focuses on those songs. In reality, it is only the Yotzer and Ofan of either the seventh or eighth day that are omitted completely if one of those days is Shabbat. As has been noted, the Zulat for both days is equivalent, so it would be recited now on one day rather than two.

With respect to the Geula, as there is no Geula on the eighth day, the inclusion of the Braḥ Dodi of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed on the Shabbat of the eighth day does not displace anything. An issue would arise on the seventh day, as one might think that the Braḥ Dodi of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed would displace the Yom Layabasha Geula. One solution might be to move Yom Layabasha to the eighth day on Sunday. The Artscroll Maḥzor (albeit no other Maḥzorim or Siddurim that include the Geulot) clarifies the appropriate custom, instructing that if the seventh day occurs on Shabbat, both Braḥ Dodi and Yom Layabasha are to be recited on that day. Yom Layabasha is moved up one paragraph to just before שִׁירָה חֲדָשָׁה שִׁבְּ֒חוּ גְאוּלִים. This is a very fitting placement, as the refrain of Yom Layabasha merges in with the next line of the bracha itself. Braḥ Dodi would be recited in its normal place, just before the concluding bracha of Gaal Yisrael.

If the eighth day occurs on Shabbat, the instruction is to interchange the Kerovot of the seventh day with the eight day. As Artscroll describes it, in a rather long-winded way, the Kerovot of the seventh day are to be recited on the seventh day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the eight day on Shabbat, and the Kerovot of the eight day are to be recited on the eighth day on Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday, and the seventh day on Friday. Such an interchange also occurs on the first days of Sukkot, and, in a partial fashion, on Rosh Hashanah. The reason for this interchange on the latter days of Pesaḥ is unclear based on the content of the piyyutim. The Or Yisrael commentary in Maḥzor Rabba, quoting the Levush, states that the Kerovot for the seventh day were written by Rabbi Shimon Hagadol, who is also the author of the Yotzrot for Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed, which are recited on Shabbat that coincides with the seventh or eighth day. Therefore, since Yotzrot composed by Rabbi Shimon Hagadol are to be recited on the Shabbat of the eighth day, it is appropriate to continue on with the Kerovot written by him, making for a uniform authorship of the Kerovot recited that day [28].

Anyone who studies the piyyutim of Pesaḥ would gain a wonderful overview of Song of Songs, the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, and Shirat Hayam, from both a literal and Midrashic perspective in the beautiful, poetic language of our sages of old. If one adds in a study of the piyyutim of Shabbat Hagadol, one would also gain a fine halachic overview of the mitzvot of Pesaḥ. A worthwhile, fine endeavour indeed.



The piyyutim of Shavuot are similar in form to those of the latter days of Pesaḥ, albeit structured around the Ten Commandments rather than Shirat Hayam. Similar to the first days of Pesaḥ, which include unique genres of piyyutim known as Bikkur and Geula, Shavuot has its unique type of piyyut known as Azharat. In this section, I will deal with the Maaravot, Yotzrot, Kerovot, and Azharot for Shavuot. In a later section, I will deal with the most famous and widely recited piyyutim of Shavuot, which are added to the Torah reading and Haftarah.

The Maaravot for both nights are built around the pesukim of the Ten Commandments. Each stanza begins with the opening words of one of the commandments, and elaborates on the concept in one or two lines. The first section of both nights starts with וַיֵּרֶד [And Gd descended] from Exodus 19:25, and then moves on to וַיְדַבֵּר [And Gd spoke] from the following pasuk, Exodus 20:1. After weaving through the Ten Commandments, the last section of the first night ends with the pasuk immediately following the Ten Commandments: וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים [And all the people saw] (Exodus 20:14) and heard the sounds. The last section of the second night Maaravit ends with the tenth commandment itself.

The longer section of both nights (always the third section of the Maaravit) elaborates on the themes and Midrashim of the giving of the Torah. On the first night, it states that Tovia (one of the ten names of Moses) ascended to the heights, and brought down the Torah on Shavuot. Gd Himself came down and taught the people the seasons, the months, the calculation of hours, and all the commandments. Mention is made of the Midrash of Gd offering the Torah to the nations, their rejection of the offer, resulting in their eternal shame and eventual punishment. The Midrash of Gd suspending the mountain over them like a barrel is also portrayed. The people then accept the law of Yekutiel (another of Moses’ ten names) and sing out to Gd. On the second night, the piyyut notes that the chosen nation, portrayed as the daughter of the three perfect patriarchs, had been rescued from Egypt through many miracles, and brought to Mount Sinai. The events are portrayed as a marriage between Gd (the groom) and Israel (the bride). Gd spoke to her heart, offered her the three-part Torah (referring to the three sections of the Tanach) on the third month. Israel agreed. Gd then prepared her for three days before the giving of the Torah. The angels came down and danced. She then received 611 laws in the addition to the two heard directly from Gd.

There is a separate Yotzer for each day of Shavuot, but there is a common Ofan and Zulat. The Yotzer of the first day has the Torah speaking in the first person, so to speak. The Torah describes how it was living close to Gd, but its Creator then decided to give it over to man. The Torah predated the rest of  creation by 2,000 years, and was consulted with regard to the creation of the world. The Torah contains general principles as well as specific details, and it continues to expand as time goes on, presumably as future generations of the Jewish people derive new aspects of Torah. The Torah was offered to other nations, who rejected it. Then the Children of Israel arrived at Sinai, and the Torah was given over as a gift to them.

The Yotzer for the second day describes the events on Mount Sinai, with a blend of the story as portrayed by the Torah and Midrash. The heavy clouds, thunder and lightning are described. The Midrash that all other mountains were rejected in favour of Mount Sinai is mentioned, and that the higher mountains attempted to preempt Mount Sinai for the honour. Toward the end of the Yotzer, the Ten Commandments are briefly reiterated.

The Ofan for both days is built upon the pasuk from Proverbs 8:32 -- וְעַתָּה בָנִים שִׁמְעוּ לִי וְאַשְׁרֵי דְּרָכַי יִשְׁמֹרוּ [Mechon Mamre: Now therefore, ye children, hearken unto Me; for happy are they that keep My ways.] It is a call for Israel to sing the praises of Gd by reciting the Kedusha. Mention is made of the angel named Shamiel [Gd allows me to be heard], who silences the angelic hosts to allow the praises of Israel to be heard in the celestial realms. The Ofan reiterates the obligation to recite the Kedusha at the point in the service where we are in the middle of actually reciting the pre-Shema Kedusha.

The Zulat for both days is a further review of the Ten Commandments. Each of the eleven verses begins with one or two words of each of the Ten Commandments, with the final verse starting with the first word of the following pasuk. The ending calls upon us to fill ourselves with Torah, strengthen ourselves with its crown, and gird ourselves with reverence for our Creator.

The Kerovot follow a similar pattern on both days, with a different set of analogous piyyutim for each day. The first parts once again review the events at Mount Sinai, elaborating on Midrashim. The rejection of the offer of the Torah by the other nations is mentioned on both days. Moses is then summoned to the mountain. The angels question why the Torah is to be given to human beings. Gd uses harsh language to instruct the men, and softer language to instruct the women. On the first day, the piyyut preceding חַיּ וְקַיָּם נוֹרָא וּמָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ once again provides a quick summary of the Ten Commandments. For the final commandment, it states that the only thing one is allowed to covet is the Torah itself. The Kerovot of the first day contain no Kadosh phrases, but there are two on the second day: Gd established a testimony for Jacob, and provided the Torah to Israel to be taught as a heritage for the congregation of Jacob, O Holy One;  As You revealed Yourself to our ancestors on this day, let us merit to see the Divine Presence, so we will say “Behold this is our Gd”, O Holy One.

Two lengthy piyyutim then follow, with analogous style, but different content on both days. The first begins: וּבְכֵן השׁם קָנָנִי רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ – And therefore, Gd created me as the beginning of his path. “Me” refers to the Torah itself. The piyyutim describe the creation of the Torah two millennia before the creation of the world, and then outline Gd’s desire to give it to humanity via Adam, Noaḥ, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each had merits which would make him fitting to be the vehicle through which the Torah could have been transmitted to humanity. Yet the Torah did not find any of them fitting, and waited until Moses came along. On the second day, a fault of each of the potential transmitters of the Torah is noted, such as Noaḥ getting drunk, Abraham questioning how he could inherit the land without an heir, Isaac showing favour to Esau… Finally after the redemption from the slavery in Egypt, in the third month, after three days of preparation, the Torah was given on Mount Sinai through Moses. The nation rejoiced in the joy of the giving of the Torah.

The final piyyut before the Siluk is known as a Seder, similar in style to the Seder piyyutim of the latter days of Pesaḥ. It begins וּבְכֵן וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה מִן הָהָר אֶל הָעָם (Exodus 19:14) [And therefore, Moses came down from the mountain to the people]. Each subsequent stanza then begins with the first words of each of the Ten Commandments, starting with the prior verse (Exodus 20:1). The stanzas consist of 22 stiches, alternating between a forward and reverse acrostic. The stanzas elaborate on the particular commandment in detail, outlining the benefits of the positive commandments and the severity of violations of the negative commandments. After the 22 stiches, a concluding statement of the stanza describes the reward for the observance of the particular commandment.

The Siluk of the first day elaborates once again on the Midrashim related to the giving of the Torah. It notes that there are 49 levels of purity, 49 levels of impurity, and 613 commandments, of which 248 are positive and 365 are negative. Those who observe the commandments will never be hurt, and will be granted a crown of grace. The Siluk elaborates on the Midrash that the Torah was offered to the nations of the world, and provides the reasons why the nations rejected it. The Children of Israel then said, “we will do and we will listen” (Exodus 24:7) – which was considered an act of righteousness on their part. Every generation and its leaders were present at Sinai, so that each could learn the commandments by which one must live one’s life. The Children of Israel heard the first (or the first and second) commandment(s) from Gd’s mouth. Their souls left them. They were then revived, and asked that the rest be heard through the representative – i.e. Moses.

The Siluk of the second day elaborates on similar themes. The people heard the sounds and the sights. The statements were uttered by Gd, and then engraved in the tablets. The clouds of glory exuded the dew of light. The Children of Israel said, “we will do and we will listen.” They only had the power to listen directly to the Ten Commandments, rather than the entire Torah. They then asked their faithful shepherd (Moses) to draw near and listen to everything else, lest they die from continuing to hear the voice of Gd. Moses comforted them, stating that Gd had come to test them and to instill His fear in them (based on Exodus 20:15-16). The generation that heard His voice merited to be like angels. The people were fortunate in This World, and will be rewarded in the World To Come [29]. Fortunate is the nation that has heard the glory of His voice…

A unique form of piyyut called Azharat (plural Azharot) exists for Shavuot. The term Azharot means “exhortations” or “warnings”. Not coincidentally, the gematria of Azharat is 613. In the Sephardic rite, various Azharot piyyutim are included in the Maariv service. In the Ashkenazic rite (both Nusaḥ Ashkenaz and Nusaḥ Sefard – in contrast to the true Sephardic rite and Edot Hamizraḥ rite) the Azharat may be added to the Musaf service, just after וּשְׁנֵי תְמִידִים כְּהִלְכָתָם. There is a separate Azharat for each day, with a common conclusion. The Artsroll Maḥzor includes the short conclusion in the main body of the repetition of the Amida, and places the longer piyyutim in the appendix, indicating that they are only recited by some congregations. The Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor includes the entire piyyut in the Shaar Hapiyyut appendix, and Maḥzor Rabba include the entire piyyut in its place in the repetition of the Amida; but both use a larger font for the common conclusion [30]. 

The lengthy Azharat for the first day enumerates the 613 commandments in poetic form. The commandments are not grouped by any major theme or by their order of appearance in the Torah [31]. In many cases, there is some logical grouping by verse, especially when the common listing could assist with the rhyme or meter. Some commandments are mentioned in a word or two, whereas others receive an entire sentence. Although generally restricting itself to the 613 commandments, one can find a reference to the rejoicing of the water drawing (Simḥat Beit Hashoeiva) on Sukkot, the reading of the four special Torah portions; and the rabbinical commandments of Ḥanukah candles, the reading of the Megillah on Purim, and the recitation of Hallel. In fact, the Azharat elaborates on Hallel, noting that there are 21 days on which the whole Hallel is recited in the Diaspora, and 18 in Israel.  This unusual elaboration may be due to the fact that the Shavuot is a day upon which Hallel is recited.

The Azharat for the second day is much shorter. It does not list the commandments, but rather is based on the significance of numbers. It mentions: 613 commandments, divided into 365 negative commandments (like the number of days in a solar year), and 248 positive commandments (like the limbs of the body), Ten Commandments engraved on two tablets, two worlds (This World and the World To Come), the two cherubim of the ark cover, the eight books of the Prophets and the eleven books of the Ketuvim, six orders of Mishnah and 36 tractates of the Talmud, given to 600,000 Israelites, the chosen from among the 70 nations, written with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, given on the sixth of the third month…

The Azharot of both days conclude with a brief piyyut stating that the 613 commandments were given on the day of Shavuot, along with their rewards and punishments. The beloved nation of Israel observes, guards, and studies them. The celestial beings rejoiced and the earthly crowd was glad when the Torah written on Mount Sinai was given.

The piyyutim of Shavuot have a uniform theme of the events surrounding the giving of the Torah, both based on the literal description in the Torah and the elaboration of the Midrashim. The Ten Commandments are enumerated in the piyyutim of Shavuot no fewer than eight times. Some of the Midrashic concepts, such as the offer of the Torah to the other nations and their subsequent rejection of it, are repeated numerous times. On the other hand, there is scant to no mention of any other aspects of Shavuot. One might expect Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi to make an appearance in the piyyutim, but they do not (in contrast to the piyyutim of Pesaḥ, where the Megillah of that Yom Tov features prominently, and also as opposed to the shorter Kerovot of Purim and Tisha B’Av, which focus on their respective Megillot). On Yom HaBikurim (one of the names of Shavuot, based on the offering of the two loaves made of the first of the wheat harvest), one might have expected a Bikkur piyyut describing the offering of the Shtei Leḥem (two loaves) similar to the Bikkur on the nights of Pesaḥ, but such does not occur. One might have expected an ode to King David and the Psalms, in accordance with the tradition that Shavuot marks King David’s Yahrzeit. Perhaps even a poetic description of the bringing of the first fruits (Bikkurim) might have been included – for, although the Bikkurim could be brought throughout the summer, they are very much associated with Shavuot. Despite the multiple themes of Shavuot, the sole focus of the piyyutim is the giving of the Torah and a review of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the authors of these piyyutim were taking the opportunity to stress the fact that the Torah is really the central unifying force of our Jewish lives, and is more overriding than any other theme. The constant repetition of the Ten Commandments, woven into the various piyyutim, can be regarded as an expression of their preciousness. When something is dear to one’s heart, one tends to count it over and over. With respect to money and physical possessions, this is not considered a very positive trait. However, as noted in one of the piyyutim, we are not supposed to covet, but we are allowed, or even encouraged, to covet the Torah. More than anything, the piyyutim of Shavuot are an expression of the overriding and abiding importance of the Torah and its commandments in our lives.


Tisha B’Av

Like Purim, the repetition of the Shaḥarit Amida of Tisha B’Av includes Kerovot consisting of short poetic insertions at the end of each bracha. The alternate term Krovetz, based on a pasuk of Hallel that refers to joyous voices, is not used for the Kerovot of Tisha B’Av, for obvious reasons. There are 14 stanzas to the Kerovot, one for each of the first 14 blessings of the Amida. The final stanza is for the bracha of בּונֵה יְרוּשָׁלָיִם, the rebuilding of Jerusalem. It is possible that the author wished to end the Kerovot with the theme of the rebuilding of Jerusalem to express the hope for a better future. It is also possible that he felt he could not continue on with the Kerovot for the next two blessings, the themes of which are the sprouting of the horn of salvation, and the general request that Gd listen to our prayers – themes that are downplayed on the morning of Tisha B’Av. The true reason why there are 14 stanzas is that the author, Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir, wove his name into the piyyut, with one letter for each stanza, and his signature consists of 14 letters: אלעזר בירבי קליר.

The theme is a general expression of sadness and mourning. The opening words are “I will weep (or perhaps: enwrap myself in mourning) on the day of confusion. The theme of weeping, murmuring, moaning and lamenting appears throughout, as does the conflicting (or perhaps not conflicting) theme of silence in the face of disaster. The word Eicha appears in the middle of each stanza. As usual in this style of Kerovot, the final phrase contains a reference to the current bracha of the Amida. The second letter of each of the five phrases of the first half of each stanza contains a letter of the aleph beit, ending with the 14th letter, nun. The first of the morning Kinot,  שָׁבַת סוּרוּ, also written by Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir, continues on with the letter sameḥ, and is considered to be a continuation of the Kerovot.

 The Kerovot appear in many of the comprehensive Kinot books, but generally not in the simple pamphlet-style editions. The Otzar Hatefilot Siddur includes the Kerovot for Tisha B’Av. The Authorized Kinot, translated and annotated by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, contains a fine English translation of all the Kinot, including the Kerovot, replete with notations and sources. The Seder HaKinot LeTisha B’Av, published by Mosad Harav Kook, edited and explained by Daniel Goldschmidt, contains an alternate version of the Kerovot, also by Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir, called Zechor Eicha. The style is similar. The second last phrase in each stanza asks a question: Why? The final stanza calls upon Gd to remember. Each verse begins with a word from the fifth chapter of Lamentations. Given that the aforementioned שָׁבַת סוּרוּ Kina does so as well, Daniel Goldschmidt proposes that the first Kina is really a continuation of the Zechor Eicha Kerovot rather than the more standard  Aavich Beyom Mevech Kerovot.

The first stanza mentions that 900 years have passed without the Messiah having arrived. Some have tried to date the lifetime of Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir based on this. The exact timeframe of the Kalir’s life remains a mystery, but the year 970 CE would be on the late side. However, both Rabbi Rosenfeld and Daniel Goldschmidt note that the reference to 900 years is based on a statement in Midrash Rabba Vayikra discussing 900 years of Gd’s anger toward Israel, and not on a dating from the destruction of the Temple.

The hallmark piyyutim of Tisha B’Av are not the Kerovot, but rather the extensive Kinot of both the evening and the morning. I will provide an overview of Kinot later on in this book.



19. It is interesting that the Bikkur exists for the nights of Pesaḥ, but not for Shavuot. The Shtei Leḥem offering of Shavuot is officially called Bikkurim, and the Torah refers to Shavuot as Yom Habikkurim. Perhaps the reason is because the Omer is harvested in a special ceremony on the second night of Pesaḥ, at the exact time that the Bikkur would be recited at Maariv. There is no analogous nighttime ceremony for the harvesting of the wheat for the Shtei Leḥem offering.

20. A recording of Leil Shimurim from 1929 by Cantor Jacob Koussevitzky can be heard here:

21. This was the custom of my early childhood synagogue, Beth Shalom of Ottawa, which used the Adler Maḥzor on the Shalosh Regalim.

22. This version of Braḥ Dodi, sung by Cantor Zawel Kwartin, is taken from the Geula of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed.

23. The Silverman Siddur that I have in my library (for reference rather than for prayer) is from 1946. By referring to the “slippery slope,” my intention is by no means to denigrate the Conservative movement, but rather to highlight the obvious fact that Conservative Judaism is not Orthodox Judaism, and the liturgical changes introduced by the Siddur of that movement reflect the chasm. In fact, I look fondly back at my summers spent at Camp Ramah of Canada (1974-1978), which formed a significant stepping-stone on my path to full religious observance. The slippery slope, already evident in the 1946 version of the Silverman Siddur includes: a) the omission of the Karbanot section prior to Pesukei D’Zimra (out of a conviction that a hope for a restoration of sacrifices is not in concert with the aspirations of modern Jews); the omission of Pitum Haketoret from Ein Kelokeinu (which is curious, since one can understand the difficulty of comprehending animal sacrifice, but it is hard to imagine what would be so offensive about an incense offering, unless one rejects outright the concept of the rebuilding of the Temple); the change of the three brachot (that Gd has not made me a gentile, a slave, or a woman) to the positive rather than negative formula; the omission of Veishei Yisrael (the fire offerings of Israel) from Retzei, and the change of the tense of the Musaf blessing to reflect back to the offerings of the past rather than look forward to a restoration of the offerings in the future. Given these changes, it is curious that Braḥ Dodi, which certainly reflects a hope for the rebuilding of the Temple, is actually included in that Siddur.

24. The Artscroll Maḥzor includes both this piyyut and the following Kadosh phrase in the optional section at the end, indicating that it is omitted by many congregations. It is unusual for the Kadosh phrase, which is generally a central part of the Kerovot, to not be included in the main body of the Kerovot by Artscroll.

25. The traditional list of the ten songs (nine plus the song of the future) are nicely summarized here: .

26. For a rendition of Yom Layabasha in Sephardic style, listen to . For an Ashkenazic rendition, listen to .

27. The latter days of Pesaḥ is the only Yom Tov for which either of the two days can occur on Shabbat. Any specific Yom Tov can fall on four days of the week, and the four possible days for the seventh day of Pesaḥ are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. One of the four possible days is rarer than the rest. That would be the second of the two days which are consecutive in the four possibilities (i.e. Saturday in this case). This occurs 11.5% of the time, as opposed to the other three possibilities, which range from 28% to 31.9% For those interested, you can look up the excellent analysis of the Hebrew calendar by the late Remy Landau (no relation to me, although we knew each other).  

28. This swap of Kerovot would leave the seventh day on a Friday with a mixture of the Yotzrot for the seventh day, and Kerovot of the eighth day. Although most of the Yotzrot for the seventh day were written by Rabbi Shimon Hagadol, it is quite possible that the Ofan was not, and the Yom Layabasha Geula certainly was not, so there is already somewhat of a “hodgepodge” of authors on that day. The swap takes the opportunity to create a situation (eighth day on Shabbat) where all the piyyutim are authored by Rabbi Shimon Hagadol, who, aside from Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir, is considered one of the greatest of the paytanim. The Levush actually hints to this reason, by stating that the ordering of the swap is “more honourable.”

29. Interestingly, this was also the generation of the sin of the Golden Calf, and there are rabbinic statements stating that that generation has no share in the World To Come: conflicting viewpoints obviously – which is often the case in Aggadic statements. Fortunately, unlike Halachic conundrums, there is no need to resolve such inconsistencies.

30. The Wikipedia entry on Azharot lists at least 12 such poems. The first one listed is the one for the second day, and the second one listed is the one for the first day. This entry also makes note of some of the controversy regarding Azharot. See

31. In contrast to the listing of the 613 commandments that forms part of the formal Tikkun Leil Shavuot, where the commandments are listed parsha by parsha, in accordance with the order of Sefer Haḥinuch.


 © 2020 by Jerrold Landau